Donald Trump Will Be A Disaster For Customer Service. Or Not.

11/15/2016 08:57 am ET Updated Nov 15, 2016
Photo illustration by Aren Elliott

A Donald Trump presidency will either be great for American consumers ― or it’ll be a disaster.

Just as the presidential election left the country bitterly divided, it’s almost impossible to find any middle ground among consumers, industry experts and insiders when it comes to the effects of a Trump presidency on customer service.

President Trump will either make U.S. businesses more competitive ― and more responsive to their customers ― by unshackling cumbersome regulations, or his administration will dismantle important consumer protections and further erode service.

Nor is there any consensus on what steps, if any, consumers can take now to get ahead of a Trump administration. But there’s plenty of informed speculation.

“Expect lots of uncertainty in the coming months,” says Aaron Jackson, a professor of economics at Bentley University.

Some consumers are upbeat about the incoming president, pointing to Trump’s record in the hospitality industry. John Baker, who owns a tour operator in Cincinnati, works directly with three of Trump’s resorts.

“I can tell you without a doubt if you were looking to have someone who is service-oriented in that position, you have it,” he says. “All three are high-touch, high service. All three are also we-do-what-we-say places.”

Experts say the idea of lifting some regulations may also benefit consumers. One of Trump’s campaign promises included a moratorium on new agency regulations, as well as reviewing and eliminating regulations that hindered businesses.

“Should those regulations be lifted, the costs associated with compliance would hopefully flow through to the consumers,” says James Mohs, an assistant professor of accounting at the University of New Haven. “At least that seems to be the idea.”

One Washington, D.C., insider told me the incoming Republican-led Congress is ready to get to work creating new laws, some of which will undoubtedly benefit consumers. Contrary to the public image they’ve cultivated as anti-regulation and opposed to big government, I’m told they are eager to start legislating and that Trump’s victory will not make any difference.

The takeaway? Beyond perhaps booking a room in a Trump-branded hotel or owning a business that will benefit from fewer regulations, it’s still unclear.

When it comes to the negative effects of a Trump administration, people are a little more vocal.

“With Trump’s desire to remove the U.S. from several trade treaties it is highly likely that prices consumers pay for goods will increase due to additional import tariffs,” says Crystal Stranger, who owns a tax advisory firm and is the author of The Small Business Tax Guide (Clear Advantage, 2014). “This also may cause inflation to occur as the consumer price index is tied to the cost of consumer goods, and we could see the first substantial increase in the cost of debt during the last couple decades.”

In other words, expect higher prices for almost everything.

The Republican congress has been trying to eliminate financial protections enacted in 2010 after the financial meltdown. At the top of their list is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

“Will CFPB now be eliminated or gutted?” asks Bruce Mirken, a spokesman for the Greenlining Institute, a nonprofit organization based in Berkeley, Calif. “That could open the door for more of the sort of predatory lending that led to the 2008 crash, and more abuses such as the wrongdoing at Wells Fargo for which CFPB recently fined the bank.”

Ben Woolsey, the general manager of CreditCardForum, has spent months studying the possible effects of Trump’s policies on consumers.

“Trump has stated his plans to dismantle the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial regulatory law along with nearly all financial reforms put in place by the current administration,” he says. Eliminating these regulations could lead to a sharp rise in annual percentage rates and penalty fees.

Other than switching to a debit card or cash, or paying off your full balance, there’s no way of protecting against these potential changes.

But won’t a Trump administration be great for entrepreneurs? And wouldn’t those new businesses, by extension make the marketplace more competitive, better serving customers? It all depends on the business. Take renewable energy, an area that Shel Horowitz, a profitability expert for green businesses, knows well.

“Trump’s election will have severe negative impacts for consumers,” he says. “As other countries take the lead in developing and deploying the latest renewable technologies, jobs that could have been created here will go elsewhere. Americans will continue to be burdened by toxic and illness-causing fossil fuels, unnecessary fuel costs, and ever-widening income disparity. Innovation funds will be choked off.”

Higher prices, higher fees, fewer regulations and less innovation. And again, no real way to prepare for what’s coming, other than maybe to avoid using credit cards.

So what’s going to happen? No one knows, but that isn’t stopping anyone from speculating.

“We will see immediate effects on consumer spending as the holiday shopping season comes into full swing,” predicts Cori Bonnell, a concerned expatriate who lives in Amsterdam, who contacted me shortly after Trump’s victory to share her thoughts.

“People buying useless stuff has kept the economy going,” says Bonnell, who grew up in Cape Code, Mass., and now works as a photographer in Amsterdam. “Overall, Trump is going to have to make things happen ― whatever he has up his sleeve ― and fast. If not, he will lose his support just as fast as he got it. Who knows what the reaction will be?”

Claire Walter, a writer from Boulder, Colo., says she thinks there’ll be “massive belt-tightening” as Trump comes into office.

“If Trump succeeds in killing Obamacare, people will find themselves at the mercy of an increasingly profit-driven medical and pharmaceutical industry,” she says.

Other consumers I spoke with were even more pessimistic, predicting the economy will implode and that Americans will soon be standing in long bread lines.

But some customers are waiting to see what happens. Robert Johnson, a retired home builder from Manasota Beach, Fla., says consumers ought to give the incoming president a chance before writing him off and declaring customer service dead.

“Calm down,” he says. “Let our president go to work solving the many problems and issues of today.”

Christopher Elliott specializes in solving intractable consumer problems. Contact him with your questions on his advocacy website. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Google or sign up for his newsletter.

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